My own 11 little secrets

Two weeks ago, Chris Penn blogged his 11 Little Secrets to staying happy, healthy, productive and sane.  Quite a few other bloggers followed suit, so I thought I would give it a whirl.  What follows is my actual approach to life, not what I think you want to hear or what is politically correct. And it’s not the obvious stuff like eat well and exercise. Let’s assume you’re adults and you’ve read that somewhere before.   These are the 11 things that help me achieve peace in my heart and in my mind.  I’m digging deep. This is an experiment. Let’s see how it goes.

Make joy a priority. When I was in my mid-30s I was climbing the corporate ladder and felt stressed constantly.  I got into a discussion about it one day with an influential college teacher who always seemed unflappable. I asked him, “Well Bob, what is the emotion YOU feel most of the time?” And without hesitation, he said, “Joy.”  This was a profound revelation to me.  I had never even considered this possibility.  So I made it a life goal to make sure that I felt “joy” most of the time.  With that foundation, it really can effect your decision process.

Do good work. “Humble excellence.” Isn’t that a worthwhile goal?

Put your kids first. I know this seems obvious, but when you’re stuck in life, consider the answer that is best for your family. For me, it was always the right choice.

Take good care of your spouse. In the end, I can’t solve world hunger. I can’t even solve hunger in my own community. But I can have a profound impact on the happiness of that one person I’m married to.  I look at contributing to a strong marriage as a primary mission on earth. Have a good one and there will be countless ripples of joy spreading in all directions. When you give to your spouse, you’re really giving to yourself in the long run.

Take God seriously. You don’t have to check your brain at the door to have faith in God. At my core, I’m a scientist, a data guy.  And the more I learn and experience, the more I know God is real.  As scientists probe the very large and very small in the universe, the response is increasingly “this is statistically impossible.”  It is … unless you dismiss the obvious answer of a Creator.  For me, it is liberating and inspiring to believe in God. I recommend the short video “Everything is Spiritual” by Rob Bell.  A compelling thesis for God without a big-hair preacher yelling at you.  That is not God, I’m pretty sure.

Live without regret — That’s different from saying don’t make mistakes. Of course we all make mistakes!  But I am at peace that I have made the best decisions in the moment, even if they were mistakes, and that is not something to regret.  I try to live in way to be proud of.  My goal is to look back at my life and say “Yes, I did that well. I do not wish for a re-do.”

Stay centered. When the world wants you to be a bitch, don’t be.  Feel how you feel but choose how you react. I find this especially difficult on the social web. It’s such a mind muck of politics and self-appointed blog-gods.  It’s so easy to get pulled into that. Sometimes I just want to tell these folks how petty and narcissistic they are. But that would be bitchy, so I don’t.  Well … usually I don’t.  Stay centered.

Find a higher purpose. I’ve addressed  the importance of marriage, family, and work.  But my biggest adrenaline rush comes from teaching (I don’t do it for the money believe me), from working on a Habitat for Humanity house, or mentoring an inner-city kid. This stuff is easy to put off when life is so busy, but this is when I feel I am really leaving a legacy, even if it’s a nail in somebody’s roof.

Celebrate urgently. I often look up at the stars and think, wow, how much would I PAY to see this? Have you ever thought like that? What if the stars only came out once every 50 years?  You could make a fortune by charging admission fees.  Man, this world is FREE.  Don’t take it for granted. Celebrate even the small things that you love.

Don’t do things that will make you die. I used to live more recklessly, especially on a mountain bike. Then a few years ago I had a spinal cord injury. I had an operation and one of the possible outcomes was paralysis.  Gratefully, the long-term effects have been minor, but the biggest impact has been on my life approach. I have SO MANY things in my life that create happiness. I’m not willing to risk those any more over an activity with a probability of injury. I know some people will disagree with this, but hey, I told you this is about me, not you. I’m looking forward to a long life, not a crippled one. I still ride my bike … just in safer places!

Love one another. Here’s how I look at people. Every one of you started out as an innocent, beautiful baby. Then over the years, shit happened, it accumulated and forged something different. But at your core, you are still that beautiful little baby, right?  Of course you are. So even when a person is a bastard I try to imagine them as an infant and think, “damn, I’m sorry it had to turn out this way. It’s probably not your fault. I want to try my best to love you any way.” We could solve a lot of problems if we all carried around our baby pictures.

So there you go. If you disagree, it won’t matter any way because my concrete is set. : )

I would love to hear your thoughts though, and maybe you’ll even write your own post about your 11 little secrets.


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  • Mark!! Once again you nail it! I couldn’t agree more! That’s why you are busting it to get to #BroganMemphis!! Love this post!! I love the one about kids (yes!!) and taking care of spouses! Thx.

  • Inspirational, Mark. Thanks. Reading this makes my heart happy and having a happy heart is one of mine. Hmmmm – maybe I’ll write my own eleven.

  • Mark

    @Amy — Thanks. I do look forward to seeing all of my new friends at your event!

    @Arminda — Do it!

  • Very well said. I will definitely have to think up my 11 and they won’t be so different than yours. Thanks for the thinking!

  • One of mine would have to be growing relationships with like minded people that inspire me and hold me accountable in maintaining my own priorities. I’m so glad we’ve reconnected! Thanks for the inspiring post.

  • I couldn’t agree more. Thanks for this post and the gentle reminder to live thoughtfully. I’m already thinking of how my 11 secrets might differ slightly. The only thing that immediately comes to mind (and you alluded to it) would be: Give generously/sacrificially–but that’s probably because of my brief stint as a professional fundraiser. Thanks again, I love reading your blog.

  • Mark….love the 11 Little Secrets Blog! Great words to live by and remember when life gets crazy! Thanks for reminding us of the important and good things in life!

  • Hi Mark, This is a wonderful post. Thanks for sharing.

    I understand the point about teaching a lot. I still teach fairly regularly even though I got out of full-time university lecturing back in 2004. I love the energy and enthusiasm young people have. It’s infectious.

    In fact, I’m just helping some media students with their dissertations on blogging, and will be teaching journalism for 2 hours a week in the fall.

    I had a lot of great educators in my life and believe it’s important to give something back.

  • Carla Bobka

    Hi Mark, nice that you can articulate your lust so well, and that you’re comfortable sharing it. The very act of writing these down makes it eaier to have them show up in your life at moments where they have impact. Have you considered a side job of life coaching? Your a natural. Thx for trusting your readers enough to share these. (without affiliate links 😉

  • Awesome! ditto, Carla!

  • Mark

    Thanks for taking time out of your day to leave these awesome comments. It means a lot!

  • Fantastic, Mark. I particularly like your point re: spouses. It’s very easy to list the joys of being a parent and forget the ongoing investment we need to make in our partner.

    I’ll add one of mine: cheat the naysayers and negative nellies. There are lots of those…don’t let them win or make decisions for you.

  • Very lovely stuff Mark. I love Chris Penn as well. This reminds me of Julia Cameron’s The Artist Way and other writings of the same ilk. Solid common sense.

    One thing I have added and practiced is the ability to say No. It literally changed my life. It is difficult at times. Heart-rending and a lot of folks are unable to do so.

    Whether it be a client asking for the impossible do all this by tomorrow for no money. A friend asking for something that is just too weird Oh can you look after my three Rottweilers for a week? Or your kid wanting the latest, greatest toy that you know is just plain wrong.

    Sometimes you have to say …no.

  • Todd Lynch

    I truly enjoyed your post – your roadmap is one to be admired. Many of your secrets involve giving which in my experience, often increases one’s own joy. I would add “pay it forward.” One way to recognize someone’s generosity is to offer the same to someone new when the opportunity crosses your path.

  • Mark

    @Elizabeth — So very kind of you to contribute to the community today and your comment on Twitter made my MONTH!

    @Mose — I still have not learned this skill. I’m too nice of a guy. I want to say yes to people in need and it does become a burden some times.

    @Todd — “Pay it forward” is part of the beauty of the social web I think! Great comment.

  • So poetically and prosaically stated, Mark. On point, as always. Had to smile when you touched on teaching as a higher purpose. I’ve said the same ever since I started school (at the tender age of 55!). Teaching is a calling, not a career, nor even a job. Those who do so give greatly of themselves so that others may benefit. If I could list the top five things for which I’m thankful, my teachers would rank after my family, which is first. Though I’ve said it countless times, thank you, dear friend.

  • George Cooper

    In a world that generates too much “what’s in it for me, me, and me and to *(&*%^ with the rest of you” it is good for my soul to read heart-felt words to live by that are the opposite of me first. Thank you for sharing them and setting that example for those you come in contact with.

  • Gerard Powers

    Thanks for sharing Mark. This really caught my eye on linked in and I am glad I tuned in. I really enjoyed this. It made me stop and write down my own list which has already helped me re-focus. Thanks!

  • Mark

    @Gregory — Thanks for your kind words

    @George — WOW! It’s great to have you reading and comment on the blog! Thanks!

    @Gerard — Nice to hear from an old friend. Thanks so much for re-connecting Gerard!

  • For those wanting to post a personal pic vs. the generic avatar, go to Set up account, add pics, choose pic for e-mail. I mention this here as the subject has come up before.

  • Steve Grbic

    Thanks Mark. Great post. Made me stop and think again. I look forward to experiencing all the really meaningful aspects of my life.

  • Mark

    Thanks for your thoughts, Steve. Appreciate it!

  • I absolutely love the idea of everyone carrying around their baby picture. Hilarious. One of my “little secrets” is to make it a point to laugh as often as possible. Good for the soul. Life is indeed about finding joy and keeping the important things in perspective.

  • “It seems to me some fine things have been laid upon your table;
    But you only want the things that you can’t get.”
    The Eagles

  • Mark

    @Kellie — So very kind of you to stop by and comment. It means a lot.

    @Gregory — a cautionary note to be sure!

  • Mark –
    Lovely post. Many of my own “secrets” are aligned with the ones you share here. I think the biggest secret, however, is making the committment to be true to your secrets. Though I have many (many!) good intentions – in terms of caring for myself, my family & loved ones, and my work – too often, I find those intentions trampled into dust by the daily grind. It’s so disheartening and takes the JOY out of everything.
    Thanks for reminding me about my own hopes and dreams for a more fulfilling and purposeful life. This is me, working to get back on track.

  • Mark

    @Jamie — What a special woman and special friend you are. Thanks for sharing your heart.

  • It’s funny I read this blog post today. I just made a commitment to myself to start treating my husband with all the love and respect that he deserves instead of taking out my struggles on him. He is a wonderful, caring and supportive husband. He’s not perfect. None of us are. But this I do know. As my husband, he deserves the very best I can give him every day of his life. I’m making it my priority. Thank you for reminding me. It was just what I needed today.

  • And who said Mark Schaefer wasn’t a self development blogger? Awesome stuff brother, thanks for sharing such a personal insight about who you are. The words were insightful but not surprising.

  • Mark, I completely agree on your point about the more you learn about the world, particularly about life on earth and the science of space, the deeper your faith becomes.

  • Mark

    @Jodi — Wow. Powerful stuff. Thanks for taking the time to tell me this Jodi!

    @Marc — The only self-development around here is … me!

    @David — Thanks so much for your comment!

  • Hey Mark,

    Great job! I agree with all of them so much that I am going to adopt them as my own… don’t think I could do any better.

    Thanks for the reminders of the really important things instead of the urgent, but unimportant things. Of course, the faith part was my favorite too!

  • Mark

    That makes me feel great, Bob. I’m so appreciative of your kind and supportive words.

  • Thanks for the inspiration Mark. I did it.

    My 11 Little Secrets for @markwschaefer

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